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American League Baseball Predictions – 2013

This is the time of year when many of us baseball bloggers get carried away with what we think we know, and proceed to make fools of ourselves by attempting to predict the future of the impending baseball season.  The great thing about these sorts of predictions, of course, is that no one ever goes back to check them out.  Did you predict, for example, that the Red Sox would win the World Series last season under new manager Bobby Valentine?  See?  No one remembers you made that hideous prediction, so you don’t have to hide your head in shame.

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper (Photo credit: L. Richard Martin, Jr.)

Having said that, it is cool when you turn out to be right.  For example, around three years ago, I predicted on this site that if anyone was to ever win the Triple-Crown again, it would be Miguel Cabrera (seriously, I did.)  Last spring, I correctly predicted that David Price would win the A.L. Cy Young award, and that the Nationals Bryce Harper would be N.L. Rookie of the Year.  Incidentally, here’s what I said about the Red Sox new manager Bobby Valentine: “Bobby V. is too much of a lightning rod for this to be a smooth year in Boston.”

In fairness, I do have to admit that I thought the Phillies would win the N.L. East (they finished right at .500) and that the Rays would win the A.L. East (they won 90 games, but finished 3rd.)  I also picked the A’ for last in the A.L. West, so of course they won their division.  For N.L. Cy Young, I picked the Brewers Yovani Gallardo.  He did win 16 games and led the league with 33 starts, and he did strike out 204 batters in 204 innings (his 4th straight 200-K season), but his ERA was a rather high 3.66 and his WHIP was 1.304.  In other words, he wasn’t really all that close to winning the Cy Young award.

Now, with little in the way of insightful analysis, here are my predictions for 2013.

American League

East

1)  Tampa Bay – Still the best pitching and most overall talent of the bunch.  Longoria will win MVP award.

2)  Toronto – Made a big splash in the off-season, but that doesn’t always portend a division title.

3)  Baltimore – Could be for real after-all.  Over-achieved last year, but Yanks & BoSox are ripe for the picking.

4)  New York – Older and more obsolete than last month’s Apple product, and more expensive as well.

5)  Boston – Forensic examiners are still trying to piece together last year’s car-wreck.  Lester becomes Steve Avery.

Central 

1)  Detroit – Verlander and Scherzer K nearly 500 guys between them.  V-Mart is back.  Another division title.

2)  Kansas City –  Acquisition James Shields adds credibility, and young hitters step up and rake = 2 game over .500.

3)  White Sox – Konerko & Co. can pound the ball, but team is full of inconsistent players = 2 games under .500.

4)  Cleveland – Went out and got Michael Bourn (The Bourne Futility), but this is still a 76 win team.

5)  Minnesota – Mauer turns 30 in April.  His knees turn 38.  Scott Diamond is the de facto ace of the staff. ‘Nuff said.

West

1)  Anaheim – Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, oh my!  Trout is great again, and this time, all the pieces fit = 93 wins.

2)  Texas - G.M. Nolan Ryan finally gives up on manager Ron Washington this year as Rangers win fewer than 90.

3)  A’s – Nice year last year.  Solid group of young pitchers, and a sound organization = 85 wins.  Poverty sucks.

4)  Seattle – Like the ugliest kid in the class, Seattle is now thrilled that a new uglier kid, Houston, has just moved in.

5)  Houston – Remember the glory days of Bagwell, Biggio, & Berkman, or Wynn, Richard & Cedeno?  Ancient history.

The Angels go to the World Series, and lose in seven games.

Next up, my National League Predictions for 2013.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012: The Pitchers

Here are ten pitchers you should consider putting on your radar for Draft Day, if you haven’t already.

By “sleeper,” I am referring to those pitchers whom I believe will significantly outperform their draft rank / dollar cost on Draft Day.  This does not mean that these pitchers will all have huge seasons, just that they should each produce more bang for your buck than your competitors might expect.

Also, some of these pitchers have already enjoyed very successful seasons, but are perceived to have had a “down” year last year (some of whom actually did.)  There is no reason to believe, however, that any of these pitchers won’t improve at least modestly, if not significantly, in 2012.

In no particular order, then, here they are:

English: Beachy, ready to pounce

Image via Wikipedia

1)  Brandon Beachy:  By this time next year, Beachy could realistically be the #2 starter in the Braves rotation.  Beachy struck out 169 batters in just 141 innings last season, while walking just 46.  He will probably be pushed up around 190 innings, resulting in a little over 200 K’s, an ERA probably in the 3.50 range, a nice WHIP, and double-digit wins.  A solid mid-round pick.

2)  Madison Bumgarner:  A terrible April resulted in Bumgarner being dropped in several fantasy leagues last year, but those who scooped him up in May enjoyed a fine final five months from this young stud.  Still just 22-years old, he gives the Giants three young aces that rival the Phillies rotation.

Bumgarner’s ERA, K’s and WHIP might not trend further down in 2012, but his relatively low win total (13) last year and the deep pool of pitchers available could cause Bumgarmer to be overlooked in some leagues.  Oh, and those 13 wins? Consider that number to be his floor, not his ceiling.

3)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Rotation mate Stephen Strasburg will garner all the attention in 2012 (which is why he is does not appear on this list of sleepers), but Zimmerman’s performance will be key to the National’s overall improvement as a team this year.  And there is little reason to expect to be disappointed by what Zimmerman has to offer.

Just 25-years old, Zimmerman posted an impressive ERA of 3.18 last season, with a WHIP of just 1.15, in 161 innings last season, which was his first full season following Tommy John surgery.  It often takes about two years for a pitcher to completely come back from this surgery, so look for Zimmerman’s strikeout rate to improve a bit this year as well;  he averaged a K per inning in 2009.  Also, he should make around 30 starts or so, which means he should just about double his win total (8) from last season.

English: Derek Holland

Image via Wikipedia

4)  Derek Holland:  After a mediocre first half in which he posted an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.40, Holland really matured in the second half last year, posting a 3.21 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP after the All-Star break.  Holland will be no lower than the Rangers’ second best starter this year, and may become their de facto ace.

While his win total (16) might not improve significantly, his strikeout totals should rise while his peripherals should look more like the second-half of last season than the first half.

5)  Jonathon Niese:  Depending on if you utilize an N.L. only or a mixed-league format, this 25-year old Met’s pitcher might not even be drafted on Draft Day in your league.  His high ERA (4.40), and WHIP (1.41) and, of course, the team he pitches for will scare off many potential bidders.

But Niese averaged nearly 8 K’s per nine innings, and three K’s per walk.  Even with the fences being moved in over at Citi Field, Niese’s peripherals point to a declining ERA and WHIP in ’12, and perhaps, with luck, a few more wins.

You could do worse in the late rounds, and some people will.

6)  Neftali Feliz:  Because he is transitioning into the Ranger’s rotation this year after being their closer the past two seasons, many owners will be skeptical that Feliz will be able to make the transition smoothly.

But Feliz has now pitched a combined 162 innings in the Majors over the past three years, nearly the total of many full-time starters.  Turning just 24-years old this May, Feliz should be young enough and healthy enough to be stretched out to an equivalent amount of innings this year.

While you shouldn’t expect many complete games (if any), you are looking at a pitcher who has averaged just 5.4 hits / 9 innings in his career while averaging a strikeout an inning.

More to the point, there is precedent for a closer transitioning successfully back to the starting rotation. In 2001, Derek Lowe saved 24 games for the Red Sox.  The following season, he posted a 21-8 won-loss record, the best of his career.  In 2004, John Smoltz, in his third year as the Braves’ closer, Smoltz saved 44 games.  Transitioning back to the rotation, he posted a 44-24 record over the next three seasons.

Feliz may actually see a drop in his Draft Day status from a year ago because, no longer a known commodity as an elite closer, the uncertainty some owners will feel about his new role will provide savvy owners like yourself the opportunity to acquire him on the cheap.

Max Scherzer

Image via Wikipedia

7)  Max Scherzer:  Scherzer has the stuff to some day approach 200 K’s in a season.  At age 27, that could happen as early as this year.  Although he posted a reasonable number of wins in 2011 (15), his ERA 4.43 and WHIP (1.35) are higher than one would expect, given his background and potential.

His high strikeout rate ( 8 / 9 innings) and relatively low walk rate (2.6 / 9 innings) point to a pitcher who was somewhat unlucky (despite 15 wins) last year.

Look for his ERA to drop under 4.00 this year, and for his WHIP to drop back under 1.30.  He may not win more than 15 games again this year for the Tigers, but his improvement in his other peripherals should help your team with what some owners will view as a surprisingly successful performance out of Scherzer.

8)  John Danks:  After a dismal 2011: 8-12, 4.33, 1.34, lots of owners will be avoiding John Danks (not to mention many other White Sox players.)  But there is no reason to believe that the soon to be 27-year old Danks won’t bounce back to his performance of the previous two seasons, characterized by an ERA around 3.70, 210 innings pitched, 150-160 K’s, and double-digit wins.

Folks, we’re not looking at a staff ace here, but slotted into the number four or five spot in your rotation, you should do just fine.

9)  Brandon Morrow:  Weren’t we here last year?  Yes, many writers, including yours truly, predicted Morrow would have a breakout year in 2011.  The only thing that got broken, however, by those who owned him last year, though, were many fantasy owners team ERA’s and WHIP’s.

Still, Morrow struck out 203 batters last year in just 179 innings, averaging a league-best 10.2 K’s / 9 innings.  Clearly, the stuff is there for Morrow to take the next step up to being a fantasy baseball stud.  And after last season’s debacle (11 wins, 4.72 ERA), many owners will be spooked away from him.  Let him drop as far as you reasonably can, but don’t be afraid to grab him if it becomes clear the other owners are avoiding him like the plague.

David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays doing first ...

Image via Wikipedia

10)  David Price:  How does David Price make it onto a sleepers list?  Didn’t he finish 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2010?  Yes, and that’s exactly why he earns the number #10 spot on this list.  The 2011 model of David Price finished the year with a dismal 12-13 record (down from 19-6 in ’10) while pitching for a very good team.  His ERA rose from 2.72 to a more pedestrian 3.49.

Now the good news.  Price actually improved his walk ratio last year from 3.4 down to 2.5 / 9 innings, and his K rate rose slightly from 8.1 to 8.7 / 9 innings as well.  Price should finish the year as one of the top ten pitchers in the Majors, but he might not be drafted as such.  Therefore, if you play your cards right, you could land a #1 level pitcher in a round typically associated with #2 starting pitchers.

Next up in this series, Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, 2012:  The Hitters

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Pitchers

Tommy Hanson

Image via Wikipedia

The following pitchers are among the players I will target on Draft Day.  The value they will accrue during the course of the season should exceed their relative Draft Day position and / or cost.

Some of these pitchers were a disappointment last season; others were injured.  Pitchers, even more so than hitters, fluctuate dramatically from year to year as far as their production is concerned.  And that’s why your opportunities to discover the pitchers who will be “sleepers” in 2011 are plentiful.

In no particular order, then, here are your fantasy baseball “sleeper” pitchers for 2011:

Brandon Morrow – Blue Jays: There is a damn good chance that Morrow will lead the A.L. in strikeouts this year.  He struck out 178 batters in only 145 innings last year.  Although he might not reach 200 innings pitched this year, he is capable of striking out 200+ batters in 180 innings.  He struck out 17 batters in an August game against Tampa Bay last season, and he is capable of that kind of dominating performance every time he takes the mound.  His ERA was high last year (4.49), but he has just about learned how to pitch.  At 26-years old, he is ready to take the next step forward.

Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks:  He pitched better than his 9-10 record indicates.  On Draft Day, some of your fellow owners will focus too much on his win-loss record, but that’s how you find your bargains.  Wins tend to be a fickle category.  Case in point:  Kennedy posted a 1.55 ERA in five September starts last year, along with a 0.93 WHIP.  But he was not credited with a single win to reward his performance.  Like Morrow, Kennedy is 26-years old.  Take him in the mid-rounds and reap the benefits.

Max Scherzer – Tigers: Yet another 26-year old future ace.  Scherzer was inconsistent last season, pitching better at home than on the road.  But he improved dramatically as the season went along.  Over his final 15 starts, he posted a 1.14 WHIP and averaged about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  He throws hard, and if Morrow doesn’t end up leading the A.L. in strikeouts, Scherzer could.  Detroit figures to improve on its .500 record last season, and so, too, should the 12-11 Scherzer.

Francisco Liriano – Twins:  The 27-year old Liriano is now almost three years removed from Tommy John surgery.  His performance last year was solid:  14-10, 191 innings, 201 strikeouts.  But he is capable of doing even better than that.  Could very well land on someone’s fantasy team as a #3 or #4 starter, but is likely to pitch as well as many #1 or #2 starters.  He should break 200 innings this year to go along with 200+ strikeouts and a declining ERA of around 3.25.  What’s not to like?

Tommy Hanson – Braves:  Some observers might believe that Hanson had a somewhat disappointing season last year, as indicated by his 10-11 record.  But few pitchers in baseball were victimized by poor run support and a faulty bullpen as much as Hanson was last year.  Admittedly, he did get pounded in a few of his starts.  But after July 1st, he posted an ERA of 2.40.  You’ve got to love those young pitchers who finish strong.  At just 24 year of age, Hanson is even younger than many of the others on this list.  He is growing into a future ace.  The fifteen wins he should have enjoyed last season are a nice starting place for what you can conservatively expect from Hanson this year, along with about 200 strikeouts and an ERA somewhere between 3.00-3.50.

James McDonald – Pirates:  No, that’s not a typo.  There really is a Pirates pitcher on this list.  So how does a pitcher who was just 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA pitching for one of the very worst teams in baseball qualify as a sleeper?  Because he has averaged a little under a strikeout per inning so far in his brief Major League career, fanning 122 batters over his last 135 innings pitched.  At 26-years old, this former Dodgers prospect is finally receiving an opportunity to display his stuff at the Big League level.  You will be able to land him late in your draft, but he could end up paying dividends at a bargain-basement price.

Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies:  Don’t worry; I don’t know how it’s pronounced either.  What I do know is that, in 21 starts last season, this 23-year old struck out 138 batters in 137 innings, and posted a very impressive 3.21 ERA while calling Coors Field home.  His 61 walks in 137 innings could be cause for some concern, but his raw talent should not be overlooked.  If you find that he is overlooked during your Draft, by all means, grab him.

Jeremy Hellickson – Rays:  Other than perhaps David Price, Hellickson is the most talented pitcher to come out of Tampa Bay’s remarkable farm-system over the past few years. He most certainly has future ace stuff, as his incredible Major League debut revealed last year.  His most impressive stat, just eight walks allowed in his first 36 innings pitched.  He also struck out 33 batters, and averaged over nine K’s per nine innings in Triple A last year.  By 2012, Price and Hellickson could very well be the best 1-2 punch in Major League baseball.

Shawn Marcum – Brewers: At 29-years old, Marcum may be a little older than you think.  But that certainly doesn’t mean his career isn’t trending in the right direction.  Pitching in baseball’s toughest division last year with Toronto, he posted a 1.15 WHIP in 195 innings pitched, along with a respectable 3.64 ERA.  Keep in mind that despite Marcum’s 13-8 overall record last year, he was 12-2 when NOT pitching against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Tampa Bay.  This year, in the N.L. Central, he should thrive.

Brett Anderson – A’s: Some Fantasy Baseball owners will be scared off by Anderson’s elbow problems last year.  While not trying to downplay the injury, the talent here outweighs the risk, assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training.  Only 23-years old, Anderson already has nearly 300 effective innings pitched under his belt as a Major League starter.  A mid-round pick here could pay-off nicely for you in 2011.

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My Picks for the All-Star Game – 2010

Being a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), we have been asked by this organization to post a list of our picks for this year’s All-Star game.  Those members who post primarily about one team will submit picks for the league in which their favored team plays.  So a Mets blogger will, for example, post their N.L. All Star picks.

Unencumbered by such limitations, I chose to list my picks for each league, with accompanying commentary.

So here they are.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think.  Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with my picks, and why.

National League:

1B  Albert Pujols -  This has not been his finest season to date, but he is still the best player in baseball until someone else proves otherwise.

2B  Chase Utley – Brandon Phillips has better numbers so far, but Utley will pull away in the second half.

SS  Hanley Ramirez – I had been planning on picking Troy Tulowitzki, but he just went on the D.L. for the next six weeks.

3B  Scott Rolen – This was a tough call because Ryan Zimmerman is having a nice season, and David Wright, despite his huge strikeout numbers, has been productive.  But Rolen is crushing the ball in a way we haven’t seen from him in years.

C  Yadier Molina – N.L. players at this position are not having an outstanding year in ’10, but this Molina brother is the best choice.

OF Ryan Braun – Got off to a great start in April; has been merely good since then.

OF  Andrew McCutchen – Yes, this Pirate really does deserve to go to the All-Star game.

OF Andre Ethier – Just keeps getting better and better each season.

Starting Pitcher:  Ubaldo Jimenez – Simply off to one of the best starts to a season we have ever seen.

American League:

1B  Justin Morneau – In my Pre-Season Picks blog post, I stated that if any currently active player was to win the Triple Crown, it would be Miguel Cabrera.  Ironically, even though Cabrera is having a fine season, Justin Morneau is posting Triple Crown worthy stats.

2B  Robinson Cano – Having one of the best seasons by any second baseman in history.

SS  Derek Jeter – No A.L. shortstop is having a great season, but Jeter has earned this honor, regardless.

3B  Evan Longoria – With a strong second half, has a chance to win A.L. MVP Award.

C  Joe Mauer -  You were expecting, perhaps, Kelly Shoppach?

OF  Josh Hamilton – I was wrong.  I thought he would be a bust.   And I’m glad I was wrong.

OF  Vernon Wells – Very nice, and certainly unexpected, comeback year.

OF  Alex Rios – Finally putting forth the monster season long predicted.

DH  Vlad Guerrerro – Perhaps the most unappreciated super-star in the history of baseball.

SP  Jon Lester – David Price got off to the better start, but Lester could win the Cy Young this year.

If you feel I left out any obvious candidates, please let me know.

Next post:  Wednesday, June 23rd:  Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 6 – The Brooklyn / L.A. Dodgers.

Baseball 2010: The Season So Far…

Every April, baseball is full of surprises.

This April has been no different.  In fact, it has been one of the more unpredictable April’s in recent years.  This is a good thing, of course, because if all of the predictions regarding this season turned out to be accurate, how boring that would be?

Luckily, teams like the San Diego Padres (14-8), the Washington Nationals (12-10), and yes, even the New York Mets (13-9) exist to make a mockery of our pre-season predictions.   In a more negative fashion, so too do the Atlanta Braves and the L.A. Dodgers, both 8-14.

Among the players, April has had its share of heroes and goats as well.  Some come as a surprise (one way or the other), while others do not.

One of last season’s break-out players, second baseman Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, for example, has been a huge bust to this point, batting just .162 with just six hits in 37 at bats, including one home run.  Some regression to the mean was expected from this 28-year old, but no one expected Hill to suddenly morph into the second coming of Alfredo Griffin.

Meanwhile, Kelly Johnson, second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been a revelation playing in the desert south-west.  Last season, while with Atlanta, Johnson lost his job to Martin Prado (himself off to an outstanding start this year.)  This year, Johnson has already belted nine home runs and driven in 18, along with 17 runs scored.

But the real question isn’t, “Who has been hot and who hasn’t?”

It is, “Which trends are real, and which are just April illusions?”

Let’s begin with a team from which no one expected anything other than a last-place finish in the annual dog-fight that is the N.L. West.  I am referring to the first place Padres, of course.  At 14-8, with a .636 win-lost percentage, they are on pace to win 103 games.  Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

Of course not.  But, in the mediocre National League, do they have a shot at making the play-offs, perhaps as the Wild-Card team?  Well, to answer that question, we have to take a closer look regarding how it is they came to be 14-8 in the first place.

Going into last night’s games, they had scored 103 runs in April, good for an 8th place tie in the N.L., although all but one teams in their own division actually out-scored them.  Their pitching and defense surrendered 77 runs, good for 4th best in their league.  Their differential then (runs scored minus runs surrendered) is a positive 26, again, 4th in the N.L.

Importantly, though, both Colorado and San Francisco – teams in their own division – are two of the three teams that have better run differentials.

Taking a look at specific Padres players, Adrian Gonzalez, no surprise here, is having a fantastic start to the season, having already slugged six homers with 16 R.B.I and 45 total bases.  His OPS is an outstanding .999.  He is easily one of the top five first basemen playing today.

Gonzalez’s teammates, third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Will Venable have also been quietly productive.  Headley has hit an unsustainable .333 with 29 hits and 38 total bases.  Venable has a .239 batting average, but has slugged .507, primarily due to his four home runs.

The Padres as a team have hit just .249 which suggests that they have enjoyed good luck maximizing their relatively few run scoring opportunities.  In short, there is no way this offense will remain in the middle of the pack in the N.L. in scoring runs.

Taking a quick look at their pitching, the story is similar, if somewhat brighter.  Kevin Correia has taken to his new role as de facto ace by sporting a 4-1 record over his first five starts with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings.  His stuff is good, and he pitches in a pitchers paradise, so there is reason to believe that he should remain at least somewhat productive throughout the season.

But Correia also has an ERA of 3.86, which translates into over 4.00 in most N.L. parks, and he will only win as many games as the Padres are able to score runs for him.  In other words, he is not a break-out gem; he is a decent pitcher who has enjoyed some good fortune.

Meanwhile, his teammates Wade Leblanc, Jon Garland, and closer Heath Bell have also enjoyed some early season success.

Bell is a legit top-notch closer.  LeBlanc, however, is a decent young left-handed starter who rarely touches 90 with his fastball.  He is a classic case of, the more the league sees this kid, the less successful he will be.  Garland has been a league-average starting pitcher for a few years now.

Mostly a ground-ball pitcher, Garland has fanned 20 in 28 innings, but he has also walked 15.  His ERA stands at 2.58, but whenever he leaves the friendly confines of PetCo Park, the worse he will look.

If, at this point, if you are scratching your head wondering how in the hell the Padres are 14-8, you are not alone.  Although they may be a bit better than most of us thought before the season started, in reality this team will gradually slip back down to .500, and probably a bit below that, by season’s end.

Yet another N.L. team that has enjoyed its share of luck this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates (10-12).  Why do I describe a team with a record of 10-12 lucky?  Because, with their major league worst run differential of -75, (nearly twice as bad as the 4-18 Orioles), the Pirates are a truly awful team.  They have scored just 80 runs, second worst in their league, and they have surrendered 155, the most in either league.

The Pirates have virtually no legitimate major league-caliber starting pitchers, and perhaps one or two good hitters (outfielder Andrew McCutchen, hitting .305 with 14 runs scored and ten stolen bases, is an excellent young player.)

The Pirates, going into last night’s game against the scuffling Dodgers, shouldn’t have a record anywhere near .500, and, by the end of this season, they certainly won’t.

On a positive note, don’t look now, but your where’s-the-starting-pitching New York Mets, having just defeated the Phillies as I type this, are now a stunning 14-9 on the season.  The Mets have now won eight games in a row.  If nothing else, this puts off the inevitable firing of manager Jerry Manuel for at least another month.

Everyone knew that the Mets certainly had a few high quality players, but the dizzying array of questions that surrounded this team just a month ago seem to have been rendered irrelevant by this scorching start.

So, then, why and how have the Mets managed to perplex the pundits up to this point?

It seems that a few key players have made all the difference.  The biggest surprise by far has been 26-year old starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.  Pelfrey had been maddeningly short on showing any actual progress as a major league-caliber pitcher up until, uhm, about three weeks ago.

Then suddenly, Pelfrey became the second-coming of Kevin Brown or Mike Scott (in their Glory Days.)  Apparently, Pelfrey discovered a split-fingered fastball that has been the true out-pitch he had been lacking.  And he has been using it to devastating effect throughout the league.  Pelfrey’s record now stands at 4-0 with a miniscule 0.69 ERA.

Over the past sixteen games, the Mets team ERA has been 1.55.

Their offense, on the other hand, is in the middle of the pack with 105 runs scored.  So, as David Wright said recently, “We will go as far as our pitching will take us.”  He is right about that.  But no team can sustain an ERA at this level indefinitely.  Pelfrey’s ERA figures to go up a couple of runs, perhaps more, new pitch or not.   His 19-13 strike-out to walk ratio suggests a little less dominance than meets the eye.

Overall, I am sticking with my pre-season prediction that the Mets won’t win more than 84 games, and will miss making the playoffs by about five wins.

Among players that have busted out thus far, look no further than outfielder Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rasmus is an excellent combination of speed and power.  He is what Grady Sizemore was supposed to have been, and more.  Rasmus is hitting .333 with six home runs, 12 RBI’s and he has already scored 19 runs.  He has also drawn 17 walks and has three stolen bases.  His on-base percentage is nearly .500, and he is slugging over .700.

Rasmus’ only downside to this point is that he hasn’t had much success against lefties.  He is just 2 for 13 so far this year, with ten strikeouts.

But Rasmus is just 23-years old, and figures to gradually improve his success-rate vs. lefties over time.  Rasmus is one of the reasons why the Cardinals are off to an N.L. best 15-7 start.

Another break-out player is 24-year old David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (17-6, the best record in baseball, if you haven’t noticed.)  Price was a highly touted rookie last season, but disappointed many unrealistic fans with a mediocre overall performance.

That appears to have changed this season.  After just four starts, Price is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.  The A.L. is hitting just .202 against Price, and he has 26 K’s and just nine walks in 28 innings, suggesting that his overall numbers aren’t a fluke.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that Price could end up winning somewhere between 16-18 games this season, with many more to come in the future.

Best Players in the National League:  1) Albert Pujols  2) Chase Utley  3) Ryan Braun  4) Hanley Ramirez  5) Matt Kemp.   Honorable mention:  Adrian Gonzalez.

What are we to make of the defending N.L. Champion Phillies?  At 12-10, they are actually in third place in their division.  Why isn’t their record more like the 15-7 Cardinals?

Well, don’t blame Roy Halladay.  He has done everything expected of him up to this point.  He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and an 0.975 WHIP.  Moreover, he has a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 33 to 3!

Meanwhile, Halladay has again exhibited supreme durability by averaging eight innings pitched per start.

Ryan Howard, who the Phillies just signed to a huge mega-contract that almost certainly won’t turn out well for them, has been a bit of a disappointment so far.  Although he has four homers and 17 RBI, his OPS is just under .800, not a strong showing from your cleanup hitter.

But the Phils run differential of +16, coupled with their 9-6 road record, suggests that they will be fine, and, despite tonight’s 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Mets, they are still likely to overtake the Mets at some point this season.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at the standings in the A.L. West, where all four teams are separated by just one game, and try to predict a winner.

Surprising Oakland has the best run differential of the bunch (+7), but I’m sticking with my pre-season pick, Seattle, to win this division.  Cliff Lee is due back soon, and he could be the piece that puts the Mariners over the top.

Have a bone to pick with me?  Are there players or teams that you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know, and I’ll consider them in my next blog-post on this topic.

Meanwhile, if you are in a Fantasy League and he’s still available, make sure you go pick up Colby Rasmus.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Fantasy Baseball Part II: Strategies and Tips

So let’s get right to the point.  There are a number of ways to win a fantasy baseball championship. But there are infinitely more ways to lose.  In fantasy baseball, as in war, the side that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins.

Thus, putting together a successful fantasy baseball season is less about who makes the most creative, clever decisions.  It is primarily about minimizing risks, and seizing obvious opportunities when they present themselves.

As I stated in my last post, I’ve been involved in a fantasy baseball league since the early ’90′s.  No, this doesn’t make me an expert, and I certainly don’t pretend to have a monopoly on fantasy baseball wisdom.  I can only share my own experiences that have allowed me to enjoy my fair share of success, but also, an impressive record of futility.

The strategies and tactics I’m going to share with you occur to me from time-to-time, but I don’t follow each and every one of them religiously.  There have been, however,  some self-imposed rules that I once considered inviolable that I have since discarded.

For example, for many years, Rule #1 was Never Draft Rockies Pitchers.  The thin mountain air of Coors Field meant high ERA’s and generally low strikeout totals for pitchers unlucky enough to call Coors home.

This season, for the first time, there are at least two or three pitchers on the Rockies that I would be happy to own.  Perhaps at the end of this season, if none of those pitchers live up to expectations, I’ll reinstate my old rule number #1.

So here, without further preamble, are some of my guidelines for the 2010 fantasy baseball season:

1)  Never draft a pitcher in the first round. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think any starting pitchers are worth drafting with your #1 pick.  In fact, if I have the 9th overall pick in our ten team league, and Tim Lincecum is still on the board, he would be very difficult to pass up.  But the reality is, pitchers are seldom as reliable and predictable as hitters, and you cannot afford to make a mistake with your first choice.

2)  Beware of career years outside the norm. Do you really believe Marco Scutaro will score 100 runs again?  Do you really believe Raul Ibanez will set yet another career high in slugging percentage at age 37?  How much are you willing to bet that Mike Cuddyer will match the 32 homers and 94 RBI’s he tallied last year?  All of these players are past 30 years old.  Buyer, beware.

3)  Ignore win totals. There is no strategy that will get you into more trouble than looking at a pitcher’s win total from one season and using this total to project the following season’s numbers.  For example, in 1976, Jerry Koosman finished the season with a record of 21-10, and he was runner-up to Randy Jones for the N.L. Cy Young award.

Now, if anyone other than Bill James had been playing fantasy baseball in the Spring of ’77, they would have drafted Koosman, largely based on his win-loss record, in perhaps the second round.  So what happened in 1977?  Did Koosman pitch poorly and finish with a losing record?

Well, no, and yes.  He actually pitched quite well, leading the league with 7.6 K’s per nine innings.  But the Mets as a team were terrible in ’77, offering Koosman no support at all, and he finished with a remarkably terrible record of 8-20.

That’s right, he lost 20 games the year after he won 20 games while pitching only slightly less effectively himself.  Pitchers are simply never a sure thing (see Rule #1.)

So how does one go about choosing pitchers to draft?  It’s not that hard, actually, and I have found year after year that I can begin the season with a mediocre looking staff only to have other owners in my league jealously eye-balling my rotation by the All-Star break. This brings us to item #4.

4)  Draft pitchers with high strike-out rates and low WHIPs. Dominance in the form of high K rates eventually reveals itself on the ball-field in the form of wins.  This does not contradict what I stated about how win totals aren’t important.  But if you start with wins as your base-line to project success, as opposed to high K rates and low WHIPs, you are far more likely to end up disappointed with the end results.

Let me illustrate this strategy using two examples of starting pitchers who will be drafted this spring:  Matt Garza and Scott Feldman.  Feldman, a 27 year old pitcher for the Rangers, finished last season with a promising record of 17-8 with a reasonably good WHIP of 1.28.

Garza, on the other hand, a 26 year old hurler with the Twins, finished the season with an 8-12 record despite an even slightly better WHIP of 1.26.  Who would you rather have, the 17 game winner, or the 8 game winner?

If you chose Feldman, the bigger winner, good luck to you.

Here’s why.  Feldman managed to strike out only 113 batters in just under 190 innings last season.  Garza K’d 189 in 203 innings.  That’s 76 more K’s for Garza in only about 13 more innings.  Fewer K’s mean more balls in play.  More balls in play lead eventually to many more hits, opportunities for errors by the defense, and bigger innings by the opposing offense.

Strikeout pitchers with reasonably low walk totals get themselves out of many more jams, with less damage done, than contact pitchers.  There are just far more opportunities for dominance by a strikeout pitcher than for a contact pitcher, and far more opportunities to fail for a contact pitcher, who, in Feldman’s case, also happens to pitch in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball.  Which leads me directly to item #5

5)  Draft the Ball-Park: Look, obviously, when you are talking about great players such as Albert Pujols or a pitcher like Roy Halladay, ball-park factors are largely incidental.  Put them on any of the planets in our Solar System, and they’ll find ways to succeed.  But for many of the mere mortals out there, the ballpark they call home for 81 games during the season can make a big difference in the level of success they achieve.

In general, I like to find talented young hitters who have shown ability but still haven’t had the right opportunity, put them in a hitter’s park like Philadelphia or Texas, and you have a recipe for success.  Two players who, going into last season, fit that description exactly were Nelson Cruz of Texas and the Phillies Jayson Werth.

Neither player had previously enjoyed a full-time job with their clubs, but both men had shown solid slugging abilities in part-time or platoon stints.  Each of them blossomed into extremely valuable commodities last season as they took advantage of playing regularly in hitter-friendly parks to amass impressive numbers.  (You can look up their numbers on your own; no need to reprint them here.)

For pitchers, this strategy works just as well, but in reverse, of course.  Find young arms that have shown some talent, check to see if they pitch in pitcher-friendly ball-parks, and you will probably find a diamond in the rough (the still very young Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers comes to mind.)

TIP Alert! About a half dozen of the best pitcher’s parks in the country are in both league’s Western Divisions.

6)  Beware of catchers: Look, there’s a reason why Bill James in his book, “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” ranks Darrell Porter as the 18th best catcher of all time.  There just haven’t been all that many great catchers, folks.  Currently, Mike Napoli (yes, Mike Napoli) of the Angels is a top five A.L. catcher.  And Chris Iannetta of Colorado, along with his .228 batting average (in Colorado, or God’s sake?) is top ten in the N.L.

This past season, one participant in our league decided to try to corner the market on catchers, thus garnering for himself a clear competitive edge at one position.  He drafted Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, and Geovani Soto.  Soto had been named N.L. Rookie of the Year the season before with the Cubs, and Martin (Dodgers), seemed to be among the leaders of a class of solid young N.L. catchers

For those of you who followed baseball at all last season, you know Soto was a disaster, and Martin appears to be following along the career track of Jason Kendall, and empty singles hitter with a little speed.

So, needless to say, that strategy backfired.  And why shouldn’t it?  Again,  there have been fewer than fifteen great catchers in the entire history of major league baseball.

Therefore, if you don’t end up with a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Joe Mauer (a sure first-rounder) don’t panic.  There are worse fates in fantasy baseball than to end up with Yadier Molina as your starting catcher.

7)  Avoid aging players in their decline: This is especially true at deep positions like first base.  Someone will certainly draft either Lance Berkman, age 34, or Derrek Lee, age 35, over Joey Votto, age 26 due to reputation and resume.  But neither of the two veterans offer anything like the potential upside offered by Votto.

At best, Berkman and Lee will accomplish something close to what they usually offer in their average seasons.  Votto hasn’t had anything like his best season yet.

It is not a foolish gamble to bet on a player like Votto whose OPS is already extremely impressive, who plays in a good hitters park and who can only get better.

TIP AlertAvoid with extreme prejudice!

Other players / positions who fit the aging, yet still productive bill are:  Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Chipper Jones and Michael Young at third base, Benjie Molina (catcher), Raul Ibanez, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Vlad Guerrerro (OF) and the following pitchers:  Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle and closers, Francisco Cordero, Bobby Jenks, and Fernando Rodney.

8)  Beware of Over-Hyped Rookies: (Especially Pitchers) Anyone out there remember all the hype surrounding young PHEENOM David Price last season?  The next Dwight Gooden, and all that?  To be fair, most people probably drafted Price rather conservatively last season, but even those people were almost certainly extremely disappointed with his final season totals:  10-7, 4.42 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, only 128 innings pitched.

Generally speaking, it takes most young talents a couple of years or so before they really begin demonstrating their can’t-miss talent on a regular basis.  King Felix Hernandez had been hyped to the extreme for about three years before it all came together for him last season.

Sure, there are some rookies who jump right into the Big Leagues hitting line drives all over the place (Ryan Braun), or fanning ten batters in a game (Tim Lincecum)  and never look back.  But they are few and far between, and if you build a fantasy strategy based in part on acquiring as much rookie talent as you can, you are taking an unnecessary gamble.

TIP Alert! Neither Stephen Strasburg nor Madison Bumgarner will win the Cy Young Award this season.

And finally,

Strategy #9) Draft Power at the corners: Whenever I’ve had a successful fantasy baseball season, it’s often been in part because I’ve had legitimate sluggers at first and third base.  It’s not difficult at all to draft power at first base, and if you don’t, you’re sunk.  Third base can be a little more tricky sometimes because this position isn’t always as deep as it appears to be this season.

There are lots of good hitters at third base, but not necessarily a lot of big sluggers at this position.  One player I know everyone will be watching closely is the Mets star David Wright.  Last season he hit an unbelievably low ten home runs.  That’s Mark Teahen terrritory, folks.

Everyone expects Wright to rebound in 2010, perhaps doubling his homer total to twenty, or even twenty-five.  And, if he does hit 20-25 homers, lots of people will think they’ve landed a bargain if they draft Wright in the fourth or fifth round.

But think of it this way.  Evan Longoria, A-Rod, and Mark Reynolds are almost certain to hit about twice as many homers as Wright, even if Wright doubles last season’s total.  Are you willing to concede that much run production at such an important offensive position if you don’t have to?

Moreover, several other third basemen will hit about the same amount of homers as Wright, but will be drafted much lower.  Sure, Wright also brings stolen bases to the table, but I’ve never found in my league that stolen bases win championships.  Power does.  A three-run homer trumps a double-steal any day.

Now What?

Once Draft Day finally arrives, I’m quite sure that I will do what everyone else does, adjust to the circumstances of the draft.  And every draft is different.  Like a general on a battlefield, once the shooting starts, you might as well roll the battle-plans around a half dozen cigars and drop them on the battlefield, for all the good they’ll do you.

Still, a general without a plan is more likely to freeze up in a key moment, a potentially decisive situation, precisely because he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been beforehand.  I hope the tips and strategies I’ve shared with you will offer you some tactical advantage over your adversaries in your 2010 fantasy baseball season.

If you have questions or comments about the strategies and tips I’ve shared, or would like to share some of your own, by all means, please let me know.

Next blog post:  A.L. / N.L. Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide


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